20 October 2023
SUBJECTS: Hamas-Israel conflict, Royal Commission Indigenous Communities, The Voice referendum
HOST, GARY ADSHEAD: Thanks very much for joining us, gentlemen.
MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGH: Great to be with you, Gary.
SHADOW MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, ANDREW HASTIE: Thanks, Gary.
GARY ADSHEAD: Okay, first up, just your reaction, both of you, to the Greens not wanting to be a part of the original motion and wanting to break away from the motion in relation to Israel, to condemn Israel. What do you make of that?
MINISTER KEOGH: Oh, look, what do I make of it? I think it's really disappointing. They tried to move an amendment to the resolution and obviously that's their right to do that, but, I think, most disappointingly was that after the vast majority of the Parliament and House of Reps came together to oppose that amendment, they then didn't join with everybody else in supporting the actual resolution, the motion itself, which, you know, of course, the Government, the Opposition, many of the crossbench, all supported and I think Australians will be very disappointed with the position taken by the Greens there.
I think the motion was obviously very supportive of the people of Israel that have come under attack and respecting their right to respond to that, but also acknowledging the importance of the maintenance of international law and protecting civilians, and so the motion was a very clear motion of support and really fundamentally looking for peaceful solutions ultimately in the Middle East and I think it's very disappointing that the Greens political party did not support that position that was supported by the Government, both Opposition parties, and cross-bench across the board.
GARY ADSHEAD: And two Teal MPs as well, Andrew, of course, sided on that?
ANDREW HASTIE: That’s right, Garry. I think it's an appalling move by the Greens and also the two Teal Independents who joined with them in adding an amendment and effectively accusing Israel of war crimes. I think one of the most important things about October 7th is moral clarity. It was an incursion by Hamas jihadis, by a paraglider, by motorbikes, by utility vehicles wielding Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades, and they murdered in cold blood innocent Israeli men and women, including children. And the point of the resolution was to condemn that unequivocally and what we saw from the Greens and the Teal Independents was equivocation, in fact, accusations at Israel of war crimes and, yeah, it speaks for itself, Gary.
GARY ADSHEAD: Well, the thing is, and I've had discussions with people on the program, of course, since this began, who want to put the context around Palestine to it. But I just couldn't see the context of the decades of conflict in relation to the lands of Palestine really fit in at the moment because clearly what Hamas did was just a pure act of terrorism.
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right. Of course, there's a lot of history in the holy land, the Jewish people and the Palestinian people have lived side by side for thousands of years. There's no question about that. But we can condemn, absolutely, the acts by Hamas on October 7. There's just - there's no way to justify it, at all. And that's why I was very pleased to join with Matt and other members of the Government along with the Coalition to condemn this and to support the resolution.
GARY ADSHEAD: Matt, just wearing your sort of portfolio, I mean, what sort of situation is the Australian military in at the moment? I mean, is there any concerns that at any point, that our military could become involved in this in any way? I know that we've had repatriation flights, so we've had Air Force planes in the area. Anything more that we may have to get involved in, do you think?
MINISTER KEOGH: Well, it's certainly not a conflict that we are expecting to be engaged in militarily. Having said that, we do have Australian Defence Force personnel on the ground in Israel, in Palestine occupied areas, in Sinai, doing work through and with the United Nations and other peacekeeping work. All of those personnel are accounted for and safe and that is important, and their families have been engaged with and, of course, we are doing the repatriation flights to assist people to get out of Israel and Gaza and we're working with authorities, including the US and Egypt, around how we can assist Australians that are caught in Gaza as well. But there is no expectation in terms of military - Australian military - involvement in the actions that are happening in the Middle East, but Andrew's point is absolutely right. People can sort of tread over different elements of history, but at the end of the day, a terrorist attack is a terrorist attack and when - when an organisation, not a country, comes in and attacks innocent civilians, adults and children, in the institutions that they rely upon, in schools and others, you know, that is not an acceptable way of behaviour and we've never accepted that in any country, in any area where of the world. We've always condemn that activity and that's exactly what the Parliament and the Government and the Opposition and others did this week.
ANDREW HASTIE: Gary, I should add as well, the Hamas charter includes the obliteration of the Jewish people. So they are committed to extinguishing from this earth the Jewish people. And we've got to be clear about that as well. And so when we talk about the Middle East and the Palestinian people and the Jewish people, there are a lot of innocent people caught up in this, all the blood that has been shed and will be shed because, unfortunately, this is a long way from resolving itself. The blood that will be shed is on Hamas and I think that's really got to be made clear again.
MINISTER KEOGH: And I think that's on both sides. Hamas is not ultimately the friend of Palestinians either. There are Palestinian civilians that are suffering because of the actions being taken by Hamas, both in the initial attack and subsequently, and that is a, I think, a distressing situation. Australians are seeing this play out on the news, there are Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian victims to all of this, and we do want to see it come to a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible, international law maintained, civilians being protected no matter who those people are. It's not about their religion or their background or where they live we want to see civilians protected.
ANDREW HASTIE: Especially little children, Gary. As a legal point for your listeners, those that don't know, but Hamas is a listed terrorist organisation by the Australian Government as well. So I want to be very clear about that.
GARY ADSHEAD: Well, actually, and I haven't spoken to you since so what was your reaction then when you see pro-Palestinian people protestors on the steps of the Sydney Opera House saying, "Gas the Jews", in Australia?
ANDREW HASTIE: Gary, like many Australians, I didn’t recognise my own country. I was ashamed of that, and I had dinner with Jewish people last night, in fact I spoke to someone from Israel directly, and they just couldn't believe the images that were being broadcast into Israel of Australians chanting "Gas the Jews". Matt and I condemn that unequivocally. It's very distressing.
GARY ADSHEAD: And I know that obviously as a result of that, the NSW Police decided to step up, but you do -
ANDREW HASTIE: I hope so because it seemed like the State jurisdictions, the police forces, got pretty good at dispersing anti-mandate protests during the pandemic, but they struggled to contain people chanting "Gas the Jews". It's not good enough.
GARY ADSHEAD: The only person led away from my reckoning on that one was a person carrying an Israeli flag.
ANDREW HASTIE: That's right.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, we'll take a break. We will come back on the other side of this with some more discussion around particularly the call by Peter Dutton for a Royal Commission into child abuse against Aboriginal people after this.
GARY ADSHEAD: Clearly, we know that for a long time there have been questions around the abuse of Aboriginal children in their own communities. There was a call for a Royal Commission into that. Now, Labor doesn't support it, the Greens didn't support it. Why wouldn't you have a Royal Commission into something so serious?
MINISTER KEOGH: Because we don't need a Royal Commission to tell us what we already know, Gary, and that we want to be and are already taking action about. We're investing $590 million into assisting Aboriginal communities when it comes to these issues, making sure those communities are supported, protecting women and children fleeing domestic violence, making the investments that are required, and looking at crucially place-based solutions because you can't come up with a one sort of solution will fit all in terms of remote communities, metropolitan communities.
There are certainly issues here, but even the Aboriginal communities and peak organisations themselves make the point that when it comes to children that are being removed from Aboriginal families, it's actually a lower proportion than to the general population of that as a consequence of abuse. It's quite often neglect, and that comes from a number of systemic issues that have built up over generations as well as a lack of support over time for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
If we look at the history of this, the Auditor-General reports looking at what happened under the previous Government in terms of its engagement in Aboriginal health and abuse, is pretty stark because they cut millions and millions of dollars, including back in 2013 when Peter Dutton, the Opposition Leader, was the Health Minister, they cancelled a $770 million national partnership agreement on Closing the Gap on Indigenous health.
GARY ADSHEAD: Here's a bit of Peter Dutton just before I let you respond to that, Andrew.
PETER DUTTON: It's about protecting vulnerable children in our country who are being sexually abused and those children, those girls in particular, those girls in particular are the ones who will suffer for a lifetime, and the Labor Party, who want to show that they've got great big hearts and they're so much more compassionate than us. That they wouldn't support this, shows what hypocrites they are.
GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, that's been described as a political stunt. Is it, Andrew?
ANDREW HASTIE: No, it's not. Look, Royal Commissions are called to examine the most challenging public policy issues and questions of our time. That's why we had had a Royal Commission into disability, that's why we had a Royal Commission into aged care, that's why there's an ongoing Royal Commission into veteran suicide.
GARY ADSHEAD: And institutional abuse of children, I should say, in institutions in Australia. We've had one of those.
ANDREW HASTIE: Exactly right, Gary. So we have, you know, a real issue in our remote and regional communities where there are Indigenous children, young girls, particularly, who are being victims of child sexual abuse and we think a Royal Commission should examine this. We should be devoting as much resources, as many resources as possible to this problem. And that's why we're for it.
The Labor Party, for the last year or so, have been talking about a Voice. As soon as the referendum went down, they don't want to talk about outcomes anymore and we're focused on delivering for Indigenous people. We called for this as early as January of this year and so we're just continuing on with what we think is the best way forward and guess who's leading the push? Jacinta Price and Kerrynne Liddle, two Indigenous women who have a lot of experience with these challenges, whose hearts are for Indigenous Australians and I'm proud to call for this along with them, too.
GARY ADSHEAD: Matt, on that, obviously after The Voice referendum went down so badly, it does feel now that you're in a state of limbo as a Government as to what to do going forward?
MINISTER KEOGH: I don't think that's true at all, Gary. I don't know why you would even assert that. We've been very clear that we will continue on the pathway to reconciliation.
GARY ADSHEAD: Because the Australian public have slammed the door in your face on something that you thought would be pretty simple in terms of reconciliation and moving forward.
MINISTER KEOGH: We never said it would be simple. We always understood it's hard to get a constitutional amendment but, of course, we don't have just one shot in the locker here, Gary. We're a Government getting on with the job and understanding what needs to happen.
GARY ADSHEAD: There was a $450 million referendum put onto the Australian population which clearly, whether you like it or not, divided the nation, didn't divide it your way, though. I mean it did divide the nation. I know that personally, just from experiences around family and so on. So you completely stuffed it up.
MINISTER KEOGH: People are allowed to have different views in a democracy, Gary. I think we celebrate that, and I should point out this was a referendum budgeted for by every Liberal Government before us. So, but, of course, we're able to do more than one thing at a time and we are moving forward and we are working with Aboriginal communities and this Royal Commission that's been called for hasn't been called for by Aboriginal community and we continue to work, and walk on the pathway towards reconciliation as a nation and work with Aboriginal communities around Australia. And that's why we are doing the work and investing what needs to be done in Alice Springs, in remote and regional Aboriginal communities, supporting the States and the Territories in the work that needs to be done in supporting those communities, addressing family and domestic violence, making sure that we are providing those community supports so that we're building capability and capacity in those communities and with those Aboriginal families.
GARY ADSHEAD: But you owe them something now, you sold them a pup on that referendum and you've disappointed and you've left a lot of Aboriginal - I mean Aboriginal flags are flying at half-mast. I know people that have just gone away and walked for a week because they can't believe the result. So you owe them something. You've got to get off your backsides and do something a little bit more than you've done previously, clearly.
MINISTER KEOGH: Sure, and that's what we're committed to doing, Gary, and we're also committed to engaging with the Aboriginal community on those things and, as you point out, many Aboriginal leaders have said they would like a week to be able to pause, to reflect, to consider, and we are honouring that in how we are engaging with them and we are absolutely prepared to continue to work with them and look at what else needs to be done and make sure that we are closing the gap, gaps that have over the last decade have not only not shrunk, but in some cases gotten worse and that's what we are prepared to - and I'm saying that we will do. We are just saying that are Royal Commission into this specific issue is not the best way forward and Aboriginal community leaders are not calling for it.
GARY ADSHEAD: Why did Peter Dutton back away so quickly from his promise, Andrew, of a second referendum?
ANDREW HASTIE: I think the Australian people have made their position very clear through this referendum and I think the task of the Prime Minister, any Prime Minister, is to lead the country and bring us to a more unified state and I think that's where Anthony Albanese has failed. He's actually divided the country. We're more fractured now than we were a year ago and referendums are increasingly more difficult, particularly when there's a lot of other issues at play out there as well, whether it be cost of living, what we're seeing happening in Israel, it's a big challenge. And so if Peter Dutton becomes Prime Minister at the next election, he's going to be focused on unifying the country and that's why he's taken what the Australian people have told us through their vote and we're going to find the best way to look after, and to get better outcomes for Indigenous Australians. I think the first step is what we've called for, which is a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
MINISTER KEOGH: I do like the irony, Gary, that Andrew is calling Peter Dutton a force of unity when he would have to be possibly the most divisive leader in recent memory in Australian politics, certainly with the way he approached the referendum. But he makes these claims, whilst we are getting on with the job of governing and recognising the pressures that Australian families find themselves under and, it's why that, whilst we have also been dealing with the referendum, we've also provided, you know, electricity bill relief, cheaper child care, increased rent assistance, more Medicare bulk-billing, cheaper medicines, boosting income support payments, increasing fee-free TAFE training and making that more available to people, building more affordable homes and investing in social and public housing. We've been doing all of this at the same time because we recognise these are important priorities for everyday Australians and that's important that we do that as a Government. And that is about bringing people together and that is about doing the things that we need to do as a nation and as a national Government and that's what we will continue to do in support of all Australians as well as continuing to walk the path of reconciliation and looking at how we can better work to close the gaps that we see for Indigenous people when it comes to their life expectancy, their health outcomes, their education outcomes, their employment outcomes and their justice outcomes and we'll continue to do that and we will be doing more. But as you pointed out, we are also having a period where some people want to step away and reflect for a week and absolutely they should be respected in doing that and we will continue to engage with them going forward.
GARY ADSHEAD: Gentlemen, thanks very much for taking the time out to speak with us this morning. Appreciate it.